What’s in A Novel: Public Criticism

A few months back I did a post on handling private criticism. Today, I’m going to attempt a post on public criticism and how to handle it.

The fact is, whenever you put yourself out there, whether it be posting a picture you took of what you considered to be a beautiful sunset on a public site, putting a video of yourself on YouTube, going on TV or the Radio–even if it’s for a 2-minute story on how you got ripped off by an Internet scam, or write a book and have it published for all to see, you’re putting yourself out there to be criticized. Sorry, but that’s the best sugarcoating I can do.

When (not if, but when) you’re criticized you can do one of two things:

1. Sulk, cry, go hide under a rock and completely disappear from the Internet as if you never took that picture, posted that video of you eating fifteen cherry pies at last year’s state fair or wrote that “dreadful” book.

or

2. Laugh it off.  Everyone says, “Stick and stones can break my bone, but words can’t ever hurt me.” That’s a crock of crap. Words do hurt. Broken bones (and even flesh wounds) can heal faster than the hurt inflicted by words.

[Notice there is NO option 3 of fighting back. This is futile and can only make YOU look like a real moron. This is one of those case where you do NOT fight fire with fire. You graciously accept their nasty words and then go behind their backs and mock the reviewer. (Sorry any reviewers who are reading this!)]

 A friend of mine recently got her first badge of honor AKA a 1-star review and said, don’t people understand authors are people, too? I wonder that, too, sometimes, but  it’s how you choose to react to this kind of thing that makes the biggest difference.
Here is my best advice regarding public criticism:
  • Write a review of the review. Go into Word and write a review just as snarky as theirs if you wish, but make sure you do it in WORD and leave it there. Analyze whatever you want. Their review was posted publicly, it’s your right to review it if you wish. It’s actually quite calming and you wouldn’t believe the amount of creativity that starts flowing when you do this! But as I said, leave it there.
  • Make a joke about it. I have a book that was labeled OTTT, over the top trashy. While I wasn’t thrilled to get such a…er…unique assessment of my book, it really didn’t hurt my feeling so I’ve actually let myself embrace this one a little. The writer of this particular review probably had no idea how much milage I was going to get out of that review! And oh, I’ve ridden it a long way. It’s a great way to open up conversations when people I don’t know ask me what I write. I say, “Smut.” People either laugh or get a strange look of shock on their face, and if they dare say they don’t believe me, I proudly proclaim, “One of my books was labeled OTTT–over the top trashy!” A review doesn’t have to have a four or a five next to it to turn it into something positive–good “lines” are found in all sorts of reviews.
  • Consider the source. Was the person another author who left the review (sadly it’s a large percentage of other authors or aspiring writers who leave overly critical reviews)? If it’s one of these, then don’t take it to heart. They’re probably jealous. Was it a person who only leaves bad reviews? Then don’t let it bother you. While some people only review books they like, there are others who only like to pick books apart, and your masterpiece was just in their way that day. When people only have negative things to say, it makes it harder to trust their opinions. Was what they said true? This is often the hardest thing. Did you really mix up your facts or make your heroine a shrew? Did you neglect to have your book edited?
  • Don’t dwell on it.  No matter how you choose to handle your pain: scarfing junk food, crying on your girlfriend’s shoulder, reviewing their review, assessing their review and the true facts and arguments that were presented, do not let it consume you. Some might say not to spend any energy on this and I can respect that, but for some of us it’s easier to “let it go” if you DO at least acknowledge it. But acknowledging it and dwelling on it are two very different things. Have a set amount of time you’re willing to devote to this, say 10 minutes (or less). Then when those 10 are done, say to yourself, the attention I’m giving that tweet, review, comment, or whatever is done. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve shed my last tear, consumed my last bonbon and written my last snarky word about it. It’s done. You cannot dwell on it and let it consume you or you’ve just let that other person win and it’s not worth it.
  • Remember your book is not for everyone. I know it’s hard, but not everyone is going to like your writing style or your characters, nor are they all going to get your jokes. It’s life and it’s 100% okay.

And if all else fails, go on Jimmy Kimmel and read the mean tweets about yourself like these people:

Or

7 comments on “What’s in A Novel: Public Criticism

  1. “A friend of mine recently got her first badge of honor AKA a 1-star review and said, don’t people understand authors are people, too?”

    I was going to point out the harshest reviewers are other authors or those who aspire to be authors. This is the ironic thing about reviews. I’ve found that people who aren’t writers tend to be a lot better in being objective when they review books and a lot more sensitive to feelings. I don’t know why that is except maybe since writers write, they assume they are experts on what makes a book good or bad. In doing so, they fail to understand that taste truly is subjective. But really, that says more about the personality of the reviewer than it ever does about the book itself. Today I read a slew of nasty comments under a review on a book I’d never read by two people who admitted to being “aspiring writers”. You’d think they were the top experts in their field by the way they trashed the author of the book. Curious, I checked the sample of the book and I was amazed at how compelling the author’s writing style was. If I was into YA paranormal romances, I would have gotten the book because the author has amazing talent. It was jealousy that made those writers trash the author. And this is why I LOVE samples. The person reading the reviews can determine what they think based on the author’s work instead of the opinion of aspiring writers who go around reviewing books.

    Sorry to ramble. This is an excellent post. :D

    • Rose Gordon says:

      I hate that. I’ve seen it on my own books as well as on others. I was so naive when I first came into the world of publishing that I never imagined another writer would do such a dastardly deed. But they do, and they do it all the time. It’s even worse when they pretend to also be your friend and do it. LOL (Sorry, I just recently caught one of these types and it just turned my blood to ice.)

      You’re right though, aspiring writers are often the most critical and the ones who have a hard time being objective. I remember one of my most heart wrenching moments was a year or so ago (or more, I can’t really remember) when I found this aspiring author who was in the process of having her book edited and was trying to build a readership for her blog by analyzing what would one say soon be her competition’s books. One of mine got caught in the cross-fire and it was brutal. There wasn’t an aspect of that book that went unscathed. But you know what, I had to laugh it off because she gave me free publicity by putting me on her blog without me having to request an interview!

  2. Judy DV says:

    I sometimes get upset over the fact they leave nasty comment on my reviews. It’s as if my opinion of the book is 5 star, then I can only be a friend or relative. I don’t have the right to enjoy a book that person didn’t enjoy or wants to condemn for some personal reason. Hummphhh. I do stop myself from replying so I don’t go to their level but I may mark that their comment did NOT help me.

    • Rose Gordon says:

      LOL on voting their comments unhelpful. I’d shave my head if Amazon would do away with comments under reviews. I hate them. Commenting under a review only stirs the pot. Say what you came to say about the book in a review, then leave it be. Commenting under reviews is useless and while it might be a dig at the author, it can certainly upset the reviewer (like you) who did nothing more than like or dislike a book. I’ve had comments under reviews left on my books that go both ways. I’ve had some people jump to the defense of my book and I’ve had others make false accusations of the reviewers. I don’t understand why anyone even wants to review anymore, to be honest.

      • Judy DV says:

        One of my author friends was furious because of a review. The reason was that the reviewer attacked the readers of this author’s books. They felt a reviewer could say what they wanted about them but to attack readers just was too much. I found it funny after reading the review because this numbskull called the readers illiterate. So who is the moron, I mean do you see the oxymoron there :-)

  3. Heather says:

    As I was reading this, I thought about how there are a lot of places in life, be it personal or professional, where you have to develop a “thick skin,” and I think this post gives some great, practical advice to address that. Well done, Rose! Speaking to reviews specifically…. my take is that, reading another person’s review of a book where they are trashing and tearing it apart with things like “this is the worst book I’ve ever read, don’t waste your time or money” does absolutely NOTHING for me. If you’re going to take the time to critique something, state why you don’t like it–was it slow to start, were the characters not interesting? Same goes for positive–state why you like the book and why you would recommend it. That is honestly why I don’t pay much attention to the reviews when I’m selecting books. That’s not to say there aren’t valuable ones out there. . I have seen some really, detailed good ones. But it seems like for every one that is valuable, there are 3 more that have absolutely nothing to say. And as Ruth Ann said–that’s the beauty of samples! You can see if you like it or not before investing a lot of time or money.

    • Rose Gordon says:

      I love samples, too. I once read a customer discussion thread over at Amazon that was titled something about if not for the samples, Indie authors wouldn’t have a chance. Very true. For those of us who have our books only available in eBook format (or almost exclusively unless you order the paperback but no shelf real estate) a sample becomes crucial and the only thing we can depend on.

      That being said, just like you, no matter how nasty (or flowery) the reviews are that are under a book, if the description sounds interesting enough to me, I get a sample then decide.

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